Back at the lodge – Adam, Anna, and Laila left this morning, while two guests arrived. I spent the last hour in the shower, wonderfully cold, then the hammock, listening to birds and watching the varieties of butterflies – white, yellow, ocher, black, iridescent green, incandescent blue and scarlet. They amble like the people do – purposeful, yet unhurried. The pace is slow, languid like the river, and when things happen they happen slowly, like the distant sound of an approaching boat growing louder and louder until it slips past, laden with palm fronds and the men sprawled on top, smoking cigarettes.
The buildings and the walkways between them are covered in thatch and stand on stilts for the high water season. The walls and ceilings are largely open and covered in blue mosquito netting, and at night kerosene lamps and torches light the rooms and the grounds. I have a private bungalow with a shower and sink, a deck with a hammock, and a queen-sized bed. The water is cold, and the nights are so warm I sleep on top of the covers in my boxers – not before checking the room for spiders, of course. Birds nest in the trees and palms – a noisy flock of yellow-rumped cacique inhabit a nearby palm and occasionally burst from their hanging nests in a shower of bright sparks – and natives pass by in small canoes powered by muscle and sinew or the occasional outboard. Considering most supplies come from
Rode upstream past
The ease of catching piranha makes me think that the rivers are filled with them. I knew to expect it, but the sight of villagers bathing or swimming or washing clothes in a dark river filled with piranha is still strange. Life in the jungle depends on the river – it is the primary means of transportation and of communication, acts as a primary food source, and informs and structures every activity in village life. Villages lie on high ground along the banks, organized in a row of raised buildings, with paths leading to the shore where canoes and peque-peques are tied up or beached in the thick mud.
The villages are usually no more than a building deep, stretched along the bank; fields and a soccer pitch or a few common buildings might add a little depth. In Ayacucho, where the Yanayacu greets the Amazon, the majority of the population leaves during the rainy season. Most villagers have no such recourse, and the river in flood enters their lives by the front door. But no one lives far from river access, and the river runs through the villager’s lives just as blood runs through their veins. The Incas looked upon the milky way as a celestial river, a common enough symbol that I wouldn’t be surprised to find in Amazon tribal myth. Hulber told me that the Yagu believe the ceiba tree is the Mother Earth, and that when it fell, it created the Amazon from its trunk and branches. I can see in the ceiba the Amazon’s serpentine form, and I can see the wide meandering and slow current of its tributaries in the ethic and outlook of the people who live by it. They are often quiet and reserved, but quick to laugh and banter, greeting each other from canoes and calling out from shore to passing boatmen. Generous, peaceful, and kind, they share what they have, in an easy and necessary exchange with echoes of the Incan system of reciprocity. They move methodically but unhurriedly, without much in the way of possessions except what they absolutely need, and much of what they need, like the fishing poles we used, they improvise. In almost every boat is a plastic soda bottle cut in half to use as a bail – I’ve seen these deep in the forest, carried by flood water, their bright artificial color incongruous against the shaded jungle foliage. The homestead I saw on my first day here is fodder for thought, and I’m looking forward to visiting Ayacucho to learn more about the permanent residents of the jungle.
All these ideas, and a couple of guys and a sloth hanging out fishing for the afternoon. The hours passed by and we flipped piranha after piranha out of the water, throwing the guts to a black-collared hawk that dove from a nearby tree to snatch entrails from the water. We caught a number of other fish, catfish and perch, and something larger and meaner-looking than piranha, a dark brown monster with spines and tremendous teeth filling a gaping mouth. Not a bad way to spend a vacation, fishing in the Amazon.
They served the piranha for dinner. No one would touch it until I took one off the tray, head still attached, and went at it after sprinkling it with lime. Not bad, but too bony.
In an entertaining demonstration of cultural and linguistic barriers, the Frenchman tried convincing me to eat the piranha’s eyes. I did not.
The rest of dinner: squash soup, chicken, hardboiled eggs, olives, rice steamed in a sweet, flavorful local leaf, cooked and sweetened plaintains, pineapple, and tomato and avocado sandwiches. Like all the meals here, served buffet style and far more food than necessary. I find myself going back for more every time; my hunger is ravenous.
After eating I smoked a cigarette, one of the Inka brand I brought from
A short time after dinner we jumped in one of the larger boats and went upriver in the dark, looking for wildlife with a flashlight. As we passed
Only after it disappeared into the lake did I think, “I held a wild spectacled caiman in my hands!” It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time – I’ve been able to do some amazing stuff in
So far, nothing in the jungle has scared me more than the idea of tipping a canoe. And that only because I’d soak my camera.
When I started to write, the lodge cat – Panda – sat above me on top of the mosquito netting. She’s gone now, trotting off into the darkness. The jungle must be an interesting place for a domesticated cat… That strange, syncopated, echoing clicking has started again – I keep meaning to ask Hulber what makes it. It reminds me of the Kodama portrayed by